“How do you think Jenny feels when you say that, Nancy?”
“Jenny, how do you feel?”
I want to die. Send me off to my death with a bowl of chocolate ice cream.
“Um,” I said, trying not to cry, “It hurts my feelings.”
That was my first experience with public fat shaming. But it was not my last. Notice I said public. My family, who watched every morsel that passed my lips, had already shamed me at home.
Let me say this now. I was not fat. I was chubby. I wasn’t lean, but I was not obese. This was a different time, before the obesity epidemic. Any kid who wasn’t lanky was noticed. My parents didn’t mean to screw me up. But between them and Glamour magazine, I was a goner.
I was always worried about my weight. An undercurrent was there, a constant nagging, despite the occasional moments of feeling good about myself: You're fat. You're bad. But I was never fat. I was always bigger than the skinny girls, but I was never fat. And I was never bad.
Eventually, I developed a full-blown eating disorder. I snuck food and binged. My mother hid food from me. I dieted obsessively, exercised chronically, and the destructive cycle began. One summer in high school, I went on a diet and I got skinny. I had never felt sexy before, and it was exhilarating. I was on the beach in a white bikini. I was hot. I felt this guy watching me. He was hot. I went in the water, he followed. I had never been “that girl.” Of course, it was because of my body, right? Yes, maybe a little, but I also think it was my confidence. I felt good when I felt skinny.
But the die had been cast. I went to college and panicked about the “freshman fifteen,” so I lost weight. I exercised so much I got debilitating shin splints. Sophomore year, I made up it by eating, a lot, then dieting. Junior year I lived in Italy, where I gained weight and sometimes dieted. I had a hot Italian boyfriend and was happy. Senior year, I sometimes dieted, sometimes not. Up and down. One saving grace was that I loved sports. I ran, albeit to lose weight, but I also swam and played soccer. I am convinced that if I had been left alone, I’d have developed a healthy body image and a normal size for my bones.
And here’s when the metamorphosis took place. It was not when I lost those pesky five pounds. It was when I got sick of the roller coaster, sick of the mean girl inside my head. I learned about eating disorders and dieting. I saw the connection. Decades of dieting had ruined my self-esteem and created my dysfunctional eating.
Our bodies know when they are hungry and when they are full. I started listening to my body. I stopped eating enormous portions out of fear of future deprivation. I also stopped depriving myself, so there was nothing to be afraid of. When I was full, I stopped eating. I began to enjoy food rather than fear it.
I stopped treating myself in that mean way I’d never treat a friend. I stopped thinking "you look fat." I stopped equating my looks with my self-worth. I'm me, and nothing can change that. I’ve been me since that mean girl called me names back in third grade. I’ve done a lot in my life: been in a rock band, gone to graduate school, gotten married, made two babies, done stand-up comedy, written a novel. None of these have to do with body size. Not one.
I’m the right size for me. And the big secret is, so are you.